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Ancient Greek mythology, religion and art
The Arcadian, goat-footed Pan (Greek, Πᾶν), was the pastoral god of nature, wild places, moutains, woods, shepherds, goatherds, flocks, hunting and rustic music. He was identified with spring, fertility and the generative power of life, and thus also with sex.
His terrible, angry shout caused those who heard it to be seized by great fear and uncontrollable behaviour; the origin of the word panic. He is said to have used this power to help defeat the mythological attack of the Titans on Mount Olympus and the Persian invasion of Attica at the Battle of Marathon in 490 BC.
According to various myths, Pan's father was either Hermes
or Zeus, and his mother a nymph, either Dryope or Penelope of Mantineia in Arcadia. In later versions of myths, the nymph Penelope became identified with the wife of Odysseus. None of the older accounts of his parentage appear to explain his appearance as half-man, half-goat. All ancient Greek sources agree that his original home was in Arcadia in the Peloponnese. 
"Pan, the dear son of Hermes, with his goat's feet
and two horns - a lover of merry noise."
The Homeric Hymn 19, to Pan.
His name may derive either from the Greek paein (πάειν, to pasture) or pan (πάν, all), although other theories have suggested a pre-Greek, Indo-European origin.
He was certainly a primitive god and remained so as the biographies and back-stories other Olympian gods were developed and their personalities made more elevated and sophisticated. While other deities associated with agriculture, hunting and rural settings, such as Dionysus, Demeter and Artemis, were taken into Greek cities and worshipped at ever-grander temples, Pan continued to be seen as belonging to the wild, untamed countryside, and his sanctuaries were more humble, often in caves.
Pan's rough, semi-bestial appearance and character has led some to believe that he and the other daemons and spirits of nature were much older than other gods perhaps introduced later into Greek religion. Pan, like Silenus, had a role as a tutor to other deities: he is said to have taught Apollo prophecy and introduced Artemis to hunting and given her hunting dogs. On the other hand, this appears at odds with the complicated mythical genealogies which made him a relatively junior member of the Olympian family.
Although described by Pindar as "Lord of Arcadia", he was a minor god in the pan-Hellenic scheme, and was not among the Twelve Great Gods who lived on Olympus. More probably, the Greeks, and later the Romans, continued to need deities who ruled over particular aspects of life and parts of their world - the cities, the tamed and untamed lands, as well as rivers and the sea - and these retained attributes which seemed appropriate to their realms.
He was often worshipped together with Nymphs, female deities associated with water, vegetation and fertility, in the open air, at springs, rivers, in woods, on mountains and in caves. The cult of the Nymphs was also connected with Hermes, Apollo, Dionysus and local river gods such as Acheloos and Baphyras
(at Dion, Macedonia, below Mount Olympus).
At Athens there were several important sanctuaries of Pan and the nymphs, including those on the north and south slopes of the Acropolis, at the foot of the Hill of the Pnyx, near the River Ilissos, at Eleusis and in mountain caves of Parnes, Penteli and Hymettos (Vari). See The Klepsydra
on Athens Acropolis gallery page 5
In Greek and Roman art Pan is depicted as half-man, half-goat. Goat's horns grow back and close together from the centre of his head, about half way between the forehead and crown. His hair and beard are thick, long and wild, his eyes are widely spaced, his nose often long and flat, and his lips full.
His legs, covered with thick, shaggy hair, end with the cloven hooves of a goat, and he has a goat's tail. He is shown as being shorter than other gods, but taller than mortals, perhaps indicating his relative status. He is usually naked, often with an erect penis, though sometimes wearing or carrying an animal skin cloak.
He holds or plays his pan pipes (syrinx) made of hollow reeds of various lengths bound together. He also carries a lagobolon, a short hunting stick, curved like a walking stick at one end, used for throwing at hares. 
Presumably, if thrown correctly and it could stun or even kill a small animal. The curved end would have also been useful as a shepherd's crook.
Pan is often shown with nymphs, particularly in works from shrines of Pan and the Nymphs in which his father Hermes
also sometimes features. Where the shrines were underground and in caves they were associated with the underworld and death, and Hermes here fufills his role as Hermes Psychopompos (Guide of Souls).
Pan became increasingly assimilated into the myths and cult of Dionysus
following the introduction of his shrines in Athens from 490 BC. 
In numerous artworks he is shown as one of the companions of Dionysus, part his retinue known as the thiasos. Always shown as smaller than and apparently subserviant to Dionysus, he dances with satyrs and silens as the wine god cavorts drunkenly during one of his adventures (see photos on the Dionysus page
of the People section).
|References to Pan|
on My Favourite Planet
|The cave of Pan at the Klepsydra spring, on the north slope of the Athens Acropolis. With photos and articles about Pan's arrival in Athens, and other sanctuaries for the god in and around the city:
Athens Acropolis gallery page 5
A marble relief of Pan dancing.
From a relief of a procession of Dionysus
and Ariadne. From Rome, 110-130 AD.
See photos of the relief
on the Dionysus page
of the People section.
Altes Museum, Berlin. Inv. No. Sk 850.
Marble head of Pan.
Said to be from Koropi. Made
in Athens around 440-430 BC.
British Museum, London.
British Museum. GR 1931. 6-15. 1.
Head of a statue of Pan. Unknown
provenance. 2nd half of the 4th century BC.
Thasos Archaeological Museum.
Head of Pan on a gold coin of Panticapaeum (Παντικάπαιον, Pantikapaion; today Kerch)
on the east coast of the Crimea, as a pun
on the city's name. Circa 320 BC.
Ashmolean Museum, Oxford.
Inv. No. HCR5267.
Lucian, The Double Indictment (or Trials by Jury; Greek, Δὶς κατηγορούμενος; Latin, Bis Accusatus sive Tribunalia).
In the 5th century BC Herodotus
recounted the tale of the Athenian runner Pheidippides meeting Pan at Mount Parthenion in the Peloponnese. The goat-footed god complained that the Athenians had been neglecting him. After they duly dedicated a shrine to him in a cave on the north slope of the Acropolis, he came to their assistance against the Persian invasion at Marathon in 490 BC (see Athens Acropolis gallery page 5).
Around 600 years later, the Roman author Lucian of Samosata (Λουκιανός ὁ Σαμοσατεύς, circa 125-180 AD) humorously portrayed Pan as a tax-paying naturalized foreigner (metic) in Athens, complaining that the Athenians do not pay him the respect he feels he is entitled to, and criticizing philosophers.
(Justice and Hermes
are conversing in the porch of the Academy, Athens.)
Justice: Before you go, Hermes, tell me who this is coming along; a man with horns and a pipe and shaggy legs.
Hermes: Why, you must know Pan, most festive of all Dionysus's followers? He used to live on Mount Parthenius: but at the time of the Persian expedition under Datis, when the barbarians landed at Marathon, he volunteered in the Athenian service; and ever since then he has had the cave yonder at the foot of the Acropolis, a little past the Pelasgicum, and pays his taxes like any other naturalized foreigner. Seeing us so near at hand, I suppose he is coming up to make his compliments.
Pan: Hail, Justice and Hermes!
Justice: Hail, Pan, chief of Satyrs in dance and song, and most gallant of Athens' soldiers!
Pan: But what brings you here, Hermes?
Hermes: Justice will explain; I must be off to the Acropolis on my errand.
Justice: Zeus has sent me down, Pan, to preside in the law court. And how do you like Athens?
Pan: Well, the fact is, I am a good deal disappointed: they do not treat me with the consideration to which I am entitled, after repelling that tremendous barbarian invasion. All they do is to come up to my cave two or three times a year with a particularly high-scented goat, and sacrifice him: I am permitted to look on whilst they enjoy the feast, and am complimented with a perfunctory dance. However, there is some joking and merrymaking on the occasion, and that I find rather fun.
Justice: And, Pan, have they become more virtuous under the hands of the philosophers?
Pan: Philosophers? Oh! people with beards just like mine; sepulchral beings, who are always getting together and jabbering?
Justice: Those are they.
Pan: I can't understand a word they say; their philosophy is too much for me. I am mountain-bred; smart city-language is not in my line; sophists and philosophers are not known in Arcadia. I am a good hand at flute or pipe; I can mind goats, I can dance, I can fight at a pinch, and that is all. But I hear them all day long, bawling out a string of hard words about virtue, and nature, and ideas, and things incorporeal. They are good enough friends when the argument begins, but their voices mount higher and higher as they go on, and end in a scream; they get more and more excited, and all try to speak at once; they grow red in the face, their necks swell, and their veins stand out, for all the world like a flute-player on a high note. The argument is turned upside down, they forget what they are trying to prove, and finally go off abusing one another and brushing the sweat from their brows; victory rests with him who can show the boldest front and the loudest voice, and hold his ground the longest. The people, especially those who have nothing better to do, adore them, and stand spellbound under their confident bawlings. For all that I could see, they were no better than humbugs, and I was none too pleased at their copying my beard. If there were any use in their noise, if the talking did any good to the public, I should not have a word to say against them: but, to tell you the plain unvarnished truth, I have more than once looked out from my peep-hole yonder and seen them -
Justice: Hush, Pan. Was not that Hermes making the proclamation?
The works of Lucian of Samosata Volume III (of four). Translated by H. W. Fowler and F. G. Fowler. Oxford University Press, 1905. At Project Gutenberg.
Marble statuette of Pan sitting cross-legged
on a rock covered by an animal pelt.
Pentelic Marble. 2nd century BC, probably
a copy of a 4th century BC work.
Found in the Olympieion, Athens.
National Archaeological Museum, Athens.
Inv. No. 683.
Marble statuette of Pan playing his syrinx
and holding a lagobolon in his left hand.
Originally part of a statue group.
Roman, Early 3rd century AD.
From Tirnovo (Veliko Tarnovo, Bulgaria).
Height 67.5 cm.
Istanbul Archaeological Museum.
Inv. No. 26 T. Cat. Mendel 593.
Small terracotta figurine of Pan holding
his syrinx. Made in Sicily around 410 BC.
Excavated by G. Dennis at Gela, Sicily.
GR 1863.7-28.281 (Terracotta 1169).
Small terracotta figurine of Pan playing
his syrinx, sitting with crossed goat's feet
on a rock. He wears an animal-skin cloak.
Found in the Amphipolis, Macedonia.
Amphipolis Archaeological Museum.
Altar with an ithyphallic relief of Pan. From Thasos. 1st - 2nd century AD.
Pan is shown with an erect penis. He is standing in front of, or perhaps sitting on
a goat and holding it by its horns with his right hand. In his left hand he holds a
hefty-looking lagobolon, a hunting stick for throwing at hares. A cloak, perhaps of
animal skin, hangs from his left forearm. Now badly worn, when first carved, and
presumably painted, this relief must have been an impressive work.
Thasos Archaeological Museum.
|Marble statue of Pan.
Parian marble. 1st century AD copy of a 4th century BC original.
Found in Sparta, Peloponnese, Greece.
Smiling Pan wears an animal skin cloak and holds his pan pipes (syrinx)
in his left hand. His goat's legs and feet have been restored.
National Archaeological Museum, Athens. Inv. No. 252.
|Marble table support in the form of a pillar, with a depiction of Pan.
Pentelic marble. 2nd century AD copy of a 4th century BC original.
Found in Piraeus, Attica, Greece.
Similar to the statue above, with Pan wearing an animal skin
as a cape and holding his syrinx in his left hand.
National Archaeological Museum, Athens. Inv. No. 251.
Inscribed marble votive relief dedicated to the nymphs, mid 4th century BC.
Found in the Cave of the Nymphs, Mount Penteli, Attica.
The scene is set in a naiskos (small temple). The inscription below the relief
states that it was dedicated by Telephanes, Nikeratos and Demophilos, who
stand on the right facing (left to right) the three nymphs, Hermes and Pan.
The latter holds his pipes (syrinx), a lagobolon and a hare.
National Archaeological Museum, Athens. Inv. No. 4465.
The separate cylindrical base of the relief, Inv. No. 4465a.
See similar votive reliefs of Hermes, Pan and the nymphs
on the Hermes page of the People section.
Marble votive relief dedicated to the nymphs, about 330 BC.
Found in the Cave of the Nymphs, Mount Penteli, Attica.
The scene is similar to the relief above (Inv. No. 4465), except that it is set
in a cave. The figures, from left to right: three nymphs; Hermes wearing a
chlamys and holding his caduceus; Pan holding his pan pipes; a nude youth
pours wine into the kantharos held by Agathemeros, the dedicator of the relief.
Such reliefs set in caves were made from the late 5th to the 1st century BC.
National Archaeological Museum, Athens. Inv. No. 4466.
The identity of Agathemeros is known by the separate base of the relief, Inv. No. 4466a.
Marble Votive relief depicting Pan with the three Horai (Seasons) in a cave.
Pentelic marble. 330-320 BC. From Sparta (Laconia) or Megalopolis (Arcadia).
National Archaeological Museum, Athens. Inv. No. NM 1449.
|The Horai (singular, Ὧρα, Hora; plural, Ὧραι, Horai, portion of time, hour, season) were the personifications of the three seasons of ancient Greece who were later seen as goddesses of order and natural justice. They presided over the movements of the heavenly constellations by which the year and agricultural activity were measured, and guarded the gates of Olympus.
Here the Seasons are shown dancing to the music of the syrinx played by ithyphallic Pan, who crouches on a rock. They wear long chitons and himatia, the two rear figures holding onto a corner of the garment of the one before her. The seasons from left to right: Spring carries ears of corn in her left hand (harvest), Summer has bare arms, and Winter has drawn her himation around her arm and torso.
They were given different names in various traditions, but most common are two trios, either:
Thallo (Θαλλώ, bringer of blossoms), Auxo (Αὐξώ, increaser, as in plant growth) and Carpo (Καρπώ, food bringer);
or Eunomia (good order, good pasture), Eirene (peace) and Dike (justice).
The right side and left corner of the relief have been restored with plaster.
Height 55 cm, width 73 cm.
Photo © Konstanze Gundudis
Marble votive relief in the shape of a cave depicting Pan playing the syrinx
(Pan pipes), followed by nymphs dancing around an altar. At the top of the
cave are goats, and on the bottom left is the head of the river god Acheloos.
Late 4th century BC. Found at Eleusis, Attica
National Archaeological Museum, Athens. Inv. No. 1445.
Head of Pan as an antefix (end of a roof tile). From Taranto, Italy. Around 350 BC.
British Museum. GR 1884.3-22.3 (Terracotta 1364). Donated by J. R. Anderson.
A bust of Pan with his lagobolon on a mosaic panel.
Hellenistic. From Panormos, Mysia (Bandirma,
northwestern Turkey). Height 73 cm, width 62 cm,
Istanbul Archaeological Museum. Inv. No. 1608.
Dancing Pan with his lagobolon and animal skin cloak.
Detail from a Roman Period floor mosaic from Ephesus depicting
the myth of Dionysus discovering the sleeping Ariadne on Naxos.
Izmir Archaeological Museum, Turkey.
More information about this mosaic on Selçuk gallery 2.
Small mosaic panel with Pan and the tree dryad Hamadryad (or the nymph Pitys).
Supposedly from Pompeii, although it has been suggested
that it an 18th century forgery. 25 x 27 cm.
National Archaeological Museum, Naples. Inv. No. 227708
(number on the frame of the mosaic 27708). Farnese Collection.
Part of a floor mosaic showing Pan carrying the infant Dionysus on his shoulders.
In situ on the site of a peristyle courtyard of the the Byzantine Great Palace
(Palatium Magnum), of Constantinople. Late sixth or early seventh century AD.
The fragmentary section of the enormous 170-180 square metre floor mosaic is
thought to be part of a depicton of Dionysus' triumphal procession from India,
known from several other ancient artworks (see the Dionysus page). Unusually,
Dionysus is shown as a small child, holding on to the horns of Pan, who carries
a lagobolon in his left hand, and perhaps a syrinx in the right. Part of an elephant
ridden by a man is shown following Pan.
Great Palace Mosaic Museum, Istanbul.
Part of a floor mosaic showing a centaur and Pan with his syrinx.
From Jerusalem. Late 5th - early 6th century AD.
Detail of the central panel from a large floor mosaic depicting Orpheus.
The mosaic artist is thought to have used the image of Orpheus and
other figures and elements from earlier pagan iconography to convey
Christian concepts such as the "immortality of the spirit".
Istanbul Archaeological Museum. Inv. No. 1642 T. Cat. Mendel 1306.
|Relief of Pan on the left side of the "Little Arch of Galerius" in Thessaloniki.
Imperial workshop, Thessaloniki, circa 308-311 AD. See below.
Pan dances while playing his syrinx. In his left hand he holds his lagobolon. His left foot appears
to be raising the lid of a basket (standing on a low base or altar) from which a snake is emerging.
Pan with the snake in the basket motif appears on several depictions of Pan, usually in assocation
with Dionysian scenes. See, for example, a relief of a Triumph of Dionysus from Rome.
Thessaloniki Archaeological Museum.
The front of the "Little Arch of Galerius" (Μικρό τόξο Γαλερίου).
Found in 1957, south of the Octagon, central Thessaloniki.
The arch is known as the "Little Arch of Galerius" to disinguish it from the larger
triumphal Arch of Galerius which stands on the Odos Egnatia, central Thessaloniki.
Sculpted from a single marble block, it was part of a small temple of the palace of
Emperor Galerius. The decorative reliefs include medals with portraits of Galerius
and his wife Augusta Galeria Valeria, supported by figures of eastern subjects
(perhaps Persians). Between the medals two winged erotes (cupids) hold a
garland. On the right side is a nymph, and on the intrados (inside of the arch)
a medal with a head of Dionysus.
Thessaloniki Archaeological Museum. Inv. no. ΜΘ2466.
|Marble statue group of Aphrodite, Eros and Pan. Right, a close-up of Pan from the group.
Parian marble. Circa 100 BC. Height, including base: 1.55 metres.
Found in 1904 in the "House of the Poseidoniastai of Beryttos"
(a guild of worshippers of the god Poseidon from Beirut), Delos, Greece.
The inscription on the base is a dedication by Dionysos of Beryttos to his ancestoral gods:
"Dionysos, son of Zenon who was son Theodoros, from Beryttos dedicated [this offering]
to the ancestral gods for his own benefit and that of his children."
The nude Aphrodite fends off the erotic advances of the goat-footed Pan, and threatens
him with her sandal. A tiny winged Eros tries to assist the goddess by holding onto Pan's
right horn. All three figures appear to be smiling, and the tone of the work is playful.
Pan's face has been given remarkable goat-like features. His lagobolon rests against
the tree stump which also supports his left leg.
National Archaeological Museum, Athens. Inv. No. 3335.
Pan and a maenad at erotic play. Detail of a large marble krater with reliefs of Bacchic scenes.
Pentelic marble. Found in 1872 in the Horti Vettiani, Rome.
Palazzo dei Conservatori, Capitoline Museums, Rome. Inv. No. MC 1202.
Erotic marble relief of Pan, riding an ithyphallic mule, approaching a hillside shrine.
From Pompeii. Roman copy of a late Hellenistic original.
National Archaeological Museum, Naples. Inv. No. 27712. Secret Cabinet.
Marble statue group of Pan copulating with a goat.
From the Villa of the Papyri, Herculaneum.
1st century BC - 1st century AD. Height 44.2 cm, width 47.5 cm.
National Archaeological Museum, Naples. Inv. No. 27709. Secret Cabinet.
Marble bust of Pan in the form of the top of a herm.
From Contrada Verdura-Fusillo (Ribera), Sicily. Roman period.
Agrigento Regional Archaeological Museum, Sicily.
Relief of a head of Pan on the corner of a sarcophagus.
Roman Imperial period, 2nd century AD.
The large marble sarcophgaus is decorated all around with reliefs of
garlands supported by Erotes (figures of Eros), Gorgoneions (heads
of the Gorgon Medusa), and a head of Pan at each corner.
See photos of the sarcophagus on the Gorgon Medusa page.
In the courtyard of the Istanbul Archaeological Museum. Inv. No. 513.
||Notes, references and links
1. A good read for Pan fans:
Philippe Borgeaud, The cult of Pan in ancient Greece. Translated by Kathleen Atlass and James Redfield. The University of Chicago Press, 1988.
2. lagobolon, a hunter's stick for striking hares. Ancient Greek, λᾰγωβόλον, from λαγώς (lagos, hare) and βάλλω (ballo, to throw).
3. Pan assimilated into the Dionysian cult
See, for example:
Silvia Porres Caballero, Universidad Complutense de Madrid, La dionisización del dios Pan (The dionization of the god Pan), Synthesis, Vol. 19, pages 63-82. CEH, UNLP, La Plata, 2012.
Read also the account by Herodotus of how Pan's cult was introduced to Athens from 490 BC, after the Battle of Marathon: The Klepsydra on Athens Acropolis gallery page 5.
|Photos on this page were taken during
visits to the following museums:
Berlin, Altes Museum
Amphipolis Archaeological Museum, Macedonia
Athens, National Archaeological Museum
Thasos Archaeological Museum, Macedonia
Thessaloniki Archaeological Museum, Macedonia
Naples, National Archaeological Museum
Rome, Capitoline Museums, Palazzo dei Conservatori
Italy - Sicily
Agrigento Regional Archaeological Museum
Istanbul Archaeological Museum.
Istanbul, Great Palace Mosaic Museum
Izmir Archaeological Museum
London, British Museum
Oxford, Ashmolean Museum
Many thanks to the staff of these museums.
|Photos and articles © David John|
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